Delivering a united front

Hubs of 'architects' and 'developers' provide the structure of the Brand Action(tm) philosophy.

Integration is different things to different people. And it needs to be. One brand's ideal would be another's nightmare. There are many different models - the IPA's Datamine 3 report highlights three methods: advertising-led integration; brand idea-led orchestration; and participation-led orchestration. Each has strengths and weaknesses, but each also has its place in the marketing arena, dependent on the context and objectives.

Delivery of integration remains a headache. Who does it? Can it be delivered effectively by a single agency? We argue that it is not only perfectly possible but also highly attractive. You just need to choose an agency with the right structure and approach. With the appropriate elements in place, properly integrated agencies can deliver results for clients, maximising the quality and effectiveness of the work while minimising expenditure in both cost and resources.

One thing upon which, I hope, we can all agree is that strong integrated campaigns are coherent to a central thought or theme - "the idea". Whether this is a focal point or a more distributed connection, as per the IPA report, is not the issue. What matters is that this idea is engaging in that it strikes a chord with the audience and can resonate into some kind of action. This is creating the "brand" element of our Brand ActionTM philosophy. It's the "big idea" that we all know and love. An agency needs to have the brains that think like that. The inspirational, lateral thinkers who can solve problems. The "architects".

But what is an idea without glorious and appropriate execution? For an idea to come to life, it needs to be nurtured, loved and crafted. Many a brilliant idea has crashed and burned due to inexact and sloppy execution. Integration can be so much more than "dull joining-up" - that is a narrow and archaic view. Done properly, it is where the idea can sing. Specialists in a given field (social media, design etc) can mould the idea to fit beautifully into its context. This is the "action" element of our Brand ActionTM philosophy. So, in addition to "architects", we need the brains and skills that love the craft and know the techniques to make something both look great and work hard too. The often-unsung heroes. The "developers".

Strong integration comes from the combination of both architects and developers. This provides the basic structure of MBA and its Brand Action Group partners. You have a multi-disciplinary "architects' hub" assembled from account and comms planning, account handling and creative etc, which focuses on the broader picture by solving the business problems and shaping the creative and strategic response. And then you have specialist craftsmen to hone and refine to the best of anyone's ability. We see this as a symbiotic relationship, where each role is essential to the success of the other - it is absolutely not a hierarchy.

With this structure, we neatly side-step the "Jack-of-all-trades, master of none" accusation that can be levelled at some integrated shops. In each of the disciplines, you have the ability to match head-to-head with specialist providers, but in addition to this, you also have people who can think much more broadly.

The architects' hub also carries the benefit of being focused on the entirety of the client's business and united in a desire to deliver ROI. There's not one agency banging on about social media and another about how essential it is to be on TV. Instead, you have a united voice focused on doing the right thing for the situation in front of them, with the ability to evaluate the relative benefits of various activities and recommending solutions regardless of conflicting P&Ls or other inter-agency agendas. Naturally, this single team within one agency is cheaper than a multitudinous horde assembled across agencies.

The "architects and developers" structure would be meaningless without the right individuals filling the various roles. Recruiting the right people is the cornerstone for any agency, but it presents a particular challenge to an integrated agency. The duality of the structure enables us to focus people's experience into the right roles. Those who think more broadly with a greater diversity of experience are more suited to the role of architect; those with a greater focus of expertise and desire for craft are more suited to a developer position.

However, people need to be able to see beyond their own particular vista in both roles. Using the "T-shaped" analogy, although the architect must have emphasis on the horizontal bar of the "T", there is still necessity for a degree of specialism to understand how the broad thinking can play out in a specific channel in order to nurture the idea. For the developer whose emphasis is naturally on the vertical bar of the 'T", there still needs to be the ability to see how the specific element they're developing is coherent and complementary to the other activities taking place around it.

And you need to help people master their roles and grow beyond them. This requires providing the freedom to think, a clear purpose and skills development. People's brains are different. People's skills are different. People's attitudes are different. Recognise this and see it as a virtue rather than a problem. Uniformity of mind and character is not your friend when delivering excellent integrated work.

By implementing this structure, with all it entails in terms of working processes, recruitment and training, we can deliver integration effectively and efficiently. It enables us to deliver Brand ActionTM: creating the "big idea" and also executing it with aplomb into whatever format, shape, technology or space that is required to meet the objectives and drive ROI. It is this approach that successfully launched The Huffington Post in the UK and continues to take LoveFilm from strength to strength.

The challenges of "single agency" integration are not insurmountable - in fact, they are positively straightforward, given the right approach. This "architects and developers" solution provides clients with a cost-effective answer to an age-old problem. Here's to having your cake and chomping it right up.

Stephen Maher is the chief executive and James Devon is the planning director of MBA


  • Strong integration requires Brand ActionTM: powerful ideas, executed wonderfully.
  • An 'architects and developers' structure separates biggerpicture thinking from the craft skills necessary to brilliantly execute work that works.
  • The architects' hub concentrates effort around the client's problem, focusing on ROI.
  • It's a model that is effective and efficient from both the client and the agency perspective.

From Campaign's 'What next in integration' supplement, December 2011


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